It’s the cross-genre hybrid nobody was waiting for but fanboys who never knew they were fanboys will be giddily anticipating courtesy of the hype synonymous with producers Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg and the manic video game appeal of watching the anachronistic combo articulated in the title: Cowboys and Aliens.
In Eastwood/Leone style, Daniel Craig plays a man with no name; this time ’round because he simply can’t remember it. In New Mexico circa 1875 Craig’s amnesiac character stumbles into ye ol’ desert town of Absolution, the stomping ground of a law enforcing grump, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his loose cannon son Percy (Paul Dano).
Human dramas and six-shooter tensions play out before chaos reigns form the sky in the form of extraterrestrial creatures who snatch up helpless victims like corn chips. A posse is formed — Apache Indians included — to, recapturing the words of Will Smith from Independence Day, “whoop ET’s ass.”
Cowboys and Aliens kicks off like a by-the-numbers Hollywood western but the high concept SCI-FI pitch is clear from the start. Other than the title, the extraterrestrial element is embodied by a futuristic looking wristband on Daniel Craig’s arm which flares into life, Buzz Lightyear style, when the fit hits the shan and these darn tooting’ Ameeeericans need a fair dinkum hero.
Harrison Ford spends another running time grumbling like a mad man, attempting to carry the dramatic weight of his performance by the air exhaled through his nostrils.
There is something sad about watching Ford these days, unwilling to let go of his stardom and apparently encountering early senility, with each role exemplifying his status as a has been (ping Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Morning Glory, Firewall, Hollywood Homicide etcetera).
At this point of his creative nadir Ford would be well advised to take a risk or two, to find an indie director and attach himself to an About Schmidt-esque character piece for well under his salary, to see if he can build some late career cred and reverse his over-the-hill status. It could be another nail in the coffin or it could be a circuit breaker. When you ain’t got much, you ain’t got much to lose.
Sam Rockwell, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde — she plays a strange, vacant-eyed character who Knows Things — contribute a trio of lukewarm performances. Their hearts aren’t in it, and you can tell.
A series of ho-hum dramatic encounters leads to an unhinged array of extraneous action scenes full of — you guessed it — cowboys and aliens. Iron Man director Jon Favreau cobbles together some decent moments of throwaway action adventure, but nowhere near enough to fold his disjointed blockbuster-to-be together as a thrilling — or even consistently entertaining — experience. Cowboys and Aliens is cinema as stupid spectacle; the Temple of Dumb.
The lesson reads, in old type carved in the tombstones of at least one dying actor’s career: defeating super-advanced alien creatures is hard enough, but harder still when you have gun toting idiots and Harrison Ford impersonating a shriveled sponge leading the charge.
How depressing that the premise of Cowboys and Aliens relies on connecting two random words. Will this disconcerting process became a habit? Where will it end? Politicians and Dinosaurs? Gladiators and CEOs? Justin Timberlake and the Loch Ness Monster?
Yeah, yeah, alright. Chalk me down for that last one.
Cowboys and Aliens’s Australian theatrical release date: August 18, 2011.